It’s time to talk special teams. The St. Louis Blues are leading the Central as of the posting of this article with a 6-2-1 record and 13 points. That impressive and surprising record has been due to a multitude of factors, but one of those factors hasn’t been the team’s special teams play.
The old suggestion is that a team’s power play percentage and penalty kill percentage should add up to a total of 100 or higher. The Blues currently have a 73.7% on the PK and a 14.3% on the power play. That’s a total of just 88, falling well below of the overall goal of 100+.
As far as ranks, the Blues rank 24th in the NHL on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill.
The team’s record suggests that the struggles on special teams haven’t been too big of a deal. They’re still winning. However, as the game against the Vegas Golden Knights proved, the issues on the PP and PK will prove costly as more time passes.
Against the Golden Knights, the Blues went 0-for-4 on the power play. Making matters worse, the Golden Knights went 2-for-3 on the power play. The officiating proved costly too, but the lopsided specials teams play made all of the difference in a one-goal game.
How can the Blues improve in these critical areas?
Injuries have been an excuse, but it’s time to get over that. Injuries will be an issue for every team at some point during the year. Good teams find a way to adapt. It’ll always be tough to succeed if key players or out, but the overall strategy and approach appears to be the overarching issue.
The Blues need to pressure more on the PK. They’ve actually found some success when they’re moving as a unit and applying immediate pressure, but they don’t commit to this approach as much as they should. For that strategy to work, everyone has to be on the same page and moving together. When that doesn’t happen, things break down and the other team can exploit an open lane.
There’s also the cute passes when a hard clearance would work better. It’s crazy how often the Blues will get to a puck first and attempt to chip it along the boards in their own zone or pass it to a nearby teammate instead of going with the “just get it out” mentality.
With the man advantage, the Blues seem to be lacking some chemistry. Practices may solve that as the Blues try to find the right combination of players to roll out on the first and second units. As far as anecdotal evidence, the Blues are a bit too deliberate on the power play. If the fans can read your strategy well before it develops, odds are good the other team can too.
On the power play, the Blues will set up with slow, deliberate passing. The one-timers that do fly in are usually in traffic and from tough angles. Things need to be sped up some so the Blues can actually develop a play before the opponent figures it out. If you watch other teams around the league and how they move with and without the puck on the power play, you’ll see the difference.
Overall, the Blues need to work more as a unit and with more speed and urgency. So far, they’ve been able to get by with both units playing below their abilities, but the wins and the points are destined to slow unless they can make some major changes.